Toledo’s First Lady of Song, Jean Holden, has been working as a vocal coach since 1973 while singing at multiple venues since the early 1960s. Inducted into the Sylvania Distinguished Artist Hall of Fame in 2015, she continues to develop compilations with musical arranger Paul Purdue (they can be found on Spotify and YouTube).
At eight years old Holden, living with her mother in Shreveport, Louisiana, began training to be an opera singer. However, heavily influenced by the gospel music she heard at church and the country music she listened to on the Louisiana Hayride broadcast, she also sang songs from different genres. “I would hear Patsy Cline and Patty Page,” Holden said. “I naturally could sing practically anything.”
In Shreveport she won many singing competitions, ultimately receiving scholarship offers from both The Julliard School and Oberlin College. Instead, at 17, she moved to Toledo with her new husband, declining the scholarships. “I gave them up to get married,” Holden said. “I thought that would be the most exciting thing to do. I regret that I didn’t go on and study.”
Holden made her mark on Toledo’s music scene early on, singing with the Toledo Opera Association for six years. Than she determined that opera singing was not for her.
“It wasn’t going to get me anyplace, so I started looking into supper club work and the Park Lane Hotel (at Woodruff and 23d St. in downtown Toledo) was my first (gig). They hired me to work for two weeks and I stayed there for two years.” The Park Lane Hotel closed in 1970, but during Holden’s time there it was an exciting place to be, as it was frequented by celebrity guests like Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald.
Holden sang at night clubs in her early years at places like the Hospitality Motor Inn, The Park Lane Hotel, and Rusty’s. She enjoyed singing in theater productions at the University of Toledo when the theater program first began in the 1960s.
Following her passion
One of Holden’s most recent compilations is a rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption” and the spiritual “Old Freedom.” Recordings of her most popular covers, “In this Life” and “I think it’s Going to Rain Today,” can be found on YouTube.
Holden’s performances today are limited, except when she takes the stage with students from her Studio of Vocal Expression, with occasional performances at Ye Olde Dirty Bird. Her opera training allows her to teach students how to sing with control, helping local musicians, actresses, and others seeking vocal coaching.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” Holden says. “That is my passion. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work with so many people throughout the years. It’s sharing the gift that I have with people and watching them grow from it.”
Jean Holden’s Studio of Vocal Expression. All age groups welcome. $35 per hour-long lesson.
419-255-4520 | jeanholden.com
Editor’s Note: Despite the same last name, the author of this article is not related to Jean Holden.